Father sues after Illinois police mistake his daughter’s ashes for drugs

Dartavius Barnes is suing the city of Springfield and the Springfield Police Department for what he says is the desecration of his 2-year-old daughter's cremated ashes during a warrantless search.

A man is suing the city of Springfield, Illinois and the Springfield Police Department for what he says was the “desecration” of his child’s ashes.

In April 2020, Dartavius Barnes was pulled over by Springfield police for speeding and was placed in a squad car while officers commenced to searching his vehicle for drugs. 

Officers told Barnes they found a small metal container that tested positive for what they believed to be either ecstasy or meth. Bodycam footage captures the horrifying moment when Barnes tells police that the contents of that container were not any illegal drugs, but the ashes of his 2-year-old daughter, Ta’Naja Barnes.

Dartavius Barnes thegrio.com
Dartavius Barnes seated in police car. Screenshot. (WICS)

“No, no, no, bro, that’s my daughter. What y’all doing, bro? That’s my daughter!,” Barnes said. He is seen seated and handcuffed in the video published by WICS. “Give me that, bro. That’s my daughter. Please give me my daughter, bro. Put her in my hand, bro. Y’all are disrespectful, bro.” 

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In his lawsuit against the city of Springfield, Barnes says that police searched his vehicle without his consent or a warrant and that officers opened the urn without consent and spilled some of the ashes. Barnes is pursuing compensatory and punitive damages and a trial by jury, WICS reports. 

The officers identified in the suit are Colton Redding, Brian Riebling, Adam Westlake, Juan Resendez, Nicholas Renfro, and Regan Molohon. They have denied unlawfully obtaining the urn and spilling the ashes, and claim they are “entitled to qualified immunity as their conduct was justified by an objectively reasonable belief that it was lawful.”

Barnes’ daughter, two-year-old Ta’Naja Barnes, was tragically murdered by neglect in 2019. Her mother, T’wanka Davis and her mother’s boyfriend, Anthony Myers were both convicted for murder charges in 2020. Davis was sentenced to 20 years in prison and Myers was sentenced to 30. 

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In the bodycam footage, officers can be seen debating whether to re-test the contents of the urn after Barnes tells them what it is. The agonizing pleas from Barnes and his father, who was also on the scene, are heard from the squad car. 

“Please bro. That is something that is very important to me,” Barnes continued.  

The officers decided not to re-test the urn. Toward the end of the video, officers are seen talking to each other about the test results. 

“That guy knew it wasn’t weed. He immediately got out and said it was the ashes of his granddaughter,” one officer said, referring to Barnes’ father. The same officer tells another to “ask [Barnes] if he wants it or if he wants his dad to have it.”

An exhausted Barnes is seen telling police to return the urn to his father. His lawsuit against the city is set to go to trial in August 22, according to the Washington Post.

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